Why the Sierra Club Opposes New Dams in the Special Session on California Water

0

SBX2 3 by Senator Cogdill is Governor Schwarzenegger’s recently introduced water infrastructure proposal for the Second Extraordinary Session. It includes $5.1 billion that could be used to fund all or some of the following projects: the construction of Sites Reservoir, the construction of Temperance Flat Reservoir, and the expansion or Low Vaqueros Reservoir. It also includes $1.9 billion for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem programs.

The Governor’s Water Bond Proposal focuses on expensive water projects for big farms and to accommodate big growth in the Central Valley. Sierra Club California urges the Governor to focus state money on programs for water conservation, water recycling, and the cleanup of underground water basins. We also believe that the state must have a completed long-term strategy for protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta before making major investments there or for new dams upstream of the Delta.

New dams are not needed. Water conservation and recycling can easily meet our future water needs at a fraction of the cost. The 2005 California Water Plan by the Department of Water Resources states that four million acre feet of water could be saved by additional water efficiency and recycling programs.

New dams and large reservoirs are wasteful. California’s major reservoirs loose 500,000 acre-feet of water in a year from evaporation (about the same amount of water produced by the Governor’s new dams).

Dams are not a solution to global warming. Experts agree that our existing comprehensive system of dams can be operated to adjust for global warming. Large reservoirs created by new dams will produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Why should the taxpayers pay for these dams? Not one water agency in California has offered to pay even a small share of the multi-billion dollar cost to build these dams.

Dam studies are not completed. We don’t really know yet how much these dams cost, how much water they will produce, who will receive and pay for the water, and their environmental impacts.

Here is what we have sent to the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee which will hold hearings on Monday as part of the special session:

Sierra Club California opposes SB 3 XX (Cogdill & Ackerman), The Water Supply Reliability Bond Act of 2008. This proposal has many flaws but we focus specifically on the provision of the bond that includes $5.6 billion proposed for water storage. Sierra Club California does not support any proposal that provides funding for the construction of new dams or surface storage in California.

SB 3 XX is Governor Schwarzenegger’s recently introduced water infrastructure proposal for the Second Extraordinary Session. It includes $5.1 billion that could be used to fund all or some of the following projects: the construction of Sites Reservoir, the construction of Temperance Flat Reservoir, and the expansion or Low Vaqueros Reservoir. SB 3 XX also includes $500 million for funding other local surface water storage projects.

First, more dams or new surface water storage in California is unnecessary. Even with predicted economic and population growth, if investments are directed toward water efficiency, water reclamation and recycling, and additional groundwater storage, water demand will decrease. Already in the past 40 years, per capita consumption of water has been cut in half. Scenarios analyzed in the 2005 California Water Plan have shown that by conserving and reclaiming water the overall demand for water will fall, as there will be more water available. The 2005 plan also detailed how another four million acre feet of water could be saved by additional efficiency and recycling programs. One more preferable alternative that has already begun to be established is underground water storage, which has already gained 6 million-acre feet of storage in the last 20 years. Surface storage also degrades the natural flow of water and effects ecosystems in irreparable ways which can be avoided simply by using less of the water we already have.

Another reason why surface storage is unwise is that it is too wasteful. The Sites and Temperance Flat facilities for surface storage were projected to produce less water than is lost through evaporation in a year from California’s major surface storage reservoirs. The two projects would have produced about 470,000 acre-feet of water annually. In comparison, a DWR study found that the current major surface storage projects in California lose approximately 500,000 acre-feet in a year through evaporation. More evaporation loss can be expected as new surface storage reservoirs are built.

Additionally, the costs of surface storage are increasing which is an important aspect when considering the debt California is presently attempting to eliminate. Costs of these huge projects will continue to rise when taking into account environmental mitigation and interest is added into the price.

Moreover, the best and most cost effective dam sites in California have already been used. New additional dams produce much less water at a higher cost than more environmentally beneficial alternatives such as urban water use efficiency and recycling. Due to lack of funding, we unfortunately currently achieve about 20% of the reasonable water savings target that could be met if more money was invested into water use efficiency. Investing billions of dollars in environmentally damaging and inefficient new surface storage is irresponsible when limited state funds could be spent on less costly and more effective efficiency and reclamation programs.

Finally, despite arguments by proponents of these projects, dams are not a solution to global warming. Most experts agree that California’s 1,200 existing major dams can be operated in a manner to adjust to possible changes in run-off caused by global warming. The single largest use of electricity in California is storing and moving water to where it is needed. Building new surface storage will most likely result in increased energy use and greenhouse pollution to run these facilities and transport water. Also, existing large surface storage reservoirs are known sources of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane. To build more surface storage to preserve water supply seems unwise when it will simply add to the pollution that causes global warming. One precious resource cannot be traded for another, especially when there are better solutions to preserve both.

During this Second Extraordinary Session, the state can choose to invest millions in efficient water use technologies and programs that we know will reduce demand or we can choose to invest billions in costly and environmentally destructive dams. Sierra Club California asks that the Legislature invest in water use efficiency, water reclamation and recycling, and underground water storage rather than building new dams. These investments will produce more water at less cost and with fewer impacts to the environment. We oppose SB 3 XX and will encourage voters throughout California to reject any water bond that substantially funds new dams. Therefore, we urge the legislature to reject any funding for dams or surface water storage and provide a more economical and environmental approach to sustaining California’s water system.

Jim Metropulos covers statewide water and energy issues as a legislative representative for Sierra Club California in Sacramento. His comments originally appeared in Environmental Politics from California’s Capitol, the blog of Sierra Club California, and is republished with their permission.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here